The first time I interviewed Bob Goff, we talked about living a noteworthy life. If your life is noteworthy, you should take some notes on it. You should write about it. Writing every day changed my life and the lives of many of my friends, like Sarah Peck and Amber Rae.
Our lives are composed of our experiences, and our stories are comprised of our experiences. But we are born with a “bug” that enables us to turn facts into fiction. This bug is also a feature in our operating system. It allows us to imagine what doesn’t exist and make meaning of experiences, both good and bad. Without it, we’d all be emotionless sociopaths.
But when you fail to pause between stimulus and response, between what happens and how you react to it, you lose sight of the fact that you are the author of your story and architect of your destiny. You are the one who shapes the narrative. If you change the narrative, you’ll change your life.
The Facts vs. the Meaning You Assign
With every experience, there are facts as well as the meaning you assign to those facts. Your story emerges from the meaning you attach to those facts.
- Donald Miller grew up poor and without his father in the picture. Even though his father leaving was a low point in his life, it led to him to start a non-profit to work with fatherless children. That work landed him an invite to the White House.
- Christine McAlister lost her first baby, which would be a traumatic experience for any parent. But for Christine, it was the start of a new chapter in her story, one about discovering the DNA of emotional resilience.
So often, our most difficult experiences lead to our most meaningful chapters. The meaning we assign to our experiences can empower or demolish us. When you change the meaning you attach to facts, you change the story.
Owning Your Story
Story is about worthiness and embracing imperfections that bring us courage, compassion, and connection. If we want to live fully, without the constant fear of not being enough, we have to own our story — Brene Brown
I’ve likened my self-published book The Art of Being Unmistakable to committing career suicide one facebook status update at a time. It’s not sound career advice to write about the fact that you’ve been fired from almost every job you’ve ever had, and then publish that fact on Facebook. But what appeared to be career suicide was the catalyst for everything that followed. My work resonated like never before, and book sales exceeded all of my expectations.
When you own your story you take off all the masks, you let the world see into the depths of who you are, behind the scenes of public perceptions and carefully edited avatars. Owning your story humanizes you. It reveals who you are behind the resume, the accolades, and the status.
When I interview people, I don’t care what they’ve accomplished, regardless of how impressive it is. I want to know about their struggles, insecurities, and imperfections. When you ask about these things, you learn hilarious and heartwarming facts about your heroes and role models.
- Gay Hendricks didn’t have a date for the prom in high school. One day at lunch, three popular girls walked up to him in the chemistry lab and said, “We have a friend who doesn’t have a date for the prom. We know you don’t. Would you take her?” Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad for not going to my prom. This is still one of my favorite stories from the podcast.
- Phillip Mckernan hosts an event called “One Last Talk”. The premise is simple. If this was the last talk you were ever going to give, the last message you were going to share with someone who cared, what would you say? Just reflecting on this is an excellent way to start owning your story.
While Michelle Obama’s status as a former first lady has no doubt helped her sell books, that’s not why her books will become a perennial seller. She owns her story, and we love her for it. It humanizes her in a way that can’t help but connect to her to people. All you have to do is watch the beginning of her interview with Jimmy Kimmel. It takes so long for the audience to stop cheering that he can’t even start the interview.
Finding Your Voice
The truth is that you don’t have to write books, host a podcast, or speak on stage to find your voice and to be the author of your story. It’s your story and you can tell it any way you want and to whoever you want. You can tell it behind closed doors to select few people who care. Or you can shout it from the mountaintops, write about it on a blog, or start a company.
You’re the Editor
It’s easy to forget that if you’re the author, you’re also the editor of your story. It’s up to you to decide what you leave in and what you take out of the stories you tell. Both of the following stories about my life are true:
- I got shit grades at Berkeley. I got fired from all of my jobs. When I graduated from Pepperdine in 2009, I couldn’t find a job, so I moved into my parent’s house and stayed there until I was in my late 30's.
- Because I had a lot of free time when I graduated, I started surfing and writing. I built The Unmistakable Creative Podcast, and I wrote 2 traditionally published books. Some of my biggest dreams came true in very unexpected ways.
What you leave in and what you take out of any story is a choice. That choice, not only impacts the perception you have of yourself but also what’s possible with your future.
Reflection and Deep Inquiry
In reflection and deep inquiry, we’re able to learn from our past, apply those lessons in the present, and become the architects of our future. Sometimes that means getting closer to the bone and exploring our wounds. Until we stop avoiding our pain, it will follow us and impede our progress.
Here are 4 simple questions to guide your deep inquiry:
- What did I think was going to happen?
- What actually happened?
- What did I learn?
- What will I do I differently in the future?
In-depth inquiry and reflection help you shape the narrative of your life.
Every Hero’s Journey Has a Crucible
Fear, doubt and dark chapters are inevitable when you’re navigating the geography of a creative life. And uncertainty is the price of admission for an extraordinary one. One of my key observations of a life that hasn’t gone according to plan is that an experience that had gone according to plan wouldn’t have given me so many stories.
A movie wouldn’t be exciting if you knew how it was going to end right at the beginning. A book wouldn’t be worth reading if the conclusions were on the first page. The adventure lies in the unexpected, the detours, and departures from the life a protagonist is living to one he’s destined to lead. Our life story is the same.
The broken hearts, burnt bridges, and unmet expectations might hurt like hell when they happen. But they shape us. They give our lives the arc and narrative that we need for a good story. The things in our lives that don’t go according to plan are the inciting incidents of our life story. “These polar charges, these happy and sad things in life are like colors God uses to draw the world”, says Donald Miller. Your circumstances give you colors to paint with. It’s up to you whether you use them to make a mess or a masterpiece.
You Are an Eternal Work in Progress and Masterpiece in the Making
When people who don’t know about my work ask what I do, I find it challenging to describe. What do I do? I tell stories and ask questions. Sometimes by writing, sometimes by recording a podcast, and other times on a stage in front of an audience. You might say I’m a speaker, author, and podcaster. But labels are not only static, but they also limit our capacity.
Humans, on the other hand, are dynamic, and their potential for self-expression is limitless. We are in the words of Michelle Obama, “Becoming ourselves, becoming couples, becoming parents, becoming the next best version of ourselves, whatever that looks like.”
For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously towards a better self. The journey doesn’t end. — Michelle Obama
There’s far more to all of us that can be expressed through our job titles, bullet points on our resumes, and how we earn a living. We are all eternal works in progress and masterpieces in the making. Just because you don’t read about it in a book, hear about it on a podcast, that doesn’t change the fact that everybody has a story worth telling. You’re the author of yours. It’s your turn to put pen to paper, and in the words of John Mayer, “say what you need to say.”
Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage
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Originally published at unmistakablecreative.com on November 19, 2018.